Any way you want to measure it, Americans these days are distracted by tech, overwhelmed by information, and generally feeling pretty anxious.
Surveys show we waste a ridiculous amount of time responding to messages, and some economists have even started to speculate that our smartphone addiction is actually hurting the economy. Being this tech-addled and stressed is unquestionably expensive. It's also got significant human costs. A steady drumbeat of surveys shows happiness is falling and anxiety (especially among young people) is on the rise.
The solutions to this creeping mental health crisis are certainly manifold. Politicians could do plenty to help us all be less anxious (but probably won't), while tech fixes and personal behavior changes all have a role to play too. But many of these levers are out of the hands of employers.
So what can businesses do to soothe the stresses of modern life and help their people perform at their best? Amazon has one simple but radical answer: more plants.
Nature makes employees happier, more creative, and more productive.
The online behemoth's new offices in Seattle feature three domes called The Spheres which are filled with an incredible 40,000 plants, feature a real waterfall and a treehouse, and are designed to give the impression of walking through a rainforest. By all accounts, the project took heroic efforts to complete. Did Amazon do all this just to impress architecture buffs and environmental activists, and win a lot of "best offices" press coverage?
Nope, data-obsessed Amazon is just familiar with the boatload of science that shows nature has powerful effects on humans. Spending time in so-called "biophilic" environments helps to offset many of the negative effects of our frenzied, insecure modern world. Studies show that spending even just a little time in nature can:
In short, nature seems to both soothe the human soul and make our brains work better. That feels nice for people, but it's also likely to make those who work in a high-pressure environment like Amazon better at their jobs.
Looking at the science, it's easy to see why cash-flush Amazon might be willing to employ 600 full-time horticulturists to look after an office space that houses 800 employees (slots to work in The Spheres are already booked up for months, according to Business Insider).
No need to hire an army of gardeners.
Of course, retaining a small army of gardeners is probably beyond the budget of the vast majority of businesses, but that doesn't mean you can't bring a little bit of nature's magic into your office.
On a personal level, simply opting to take your lunch break in a local park will refresh and sharpen your mind. Or, for more long-lasting effects, hit the garden center and bring some more green into your office. If light is an issue, science even shows that simply incorporating more natural materials and images of nature into a workspace boosts creativity. (Or just get a philodendron--they're practically impossible to kill.)
You might not be able to afford 40,000 plants like Amazon, but certainly you can afford four. Even that will probably make a difference.